Sometimes it takes a visit from family and friends to get me out of my daily habits and for me to stop, breathe and show off my adopted city, her food, markets, and people. That’s how this dish of orecchiette pasta (little ears), tomatoes, arugula and pecorino romano cheese entered my summer repertoire.We started the day with a coffee and a Testaccio market tour for my cousin Paul and his friends. After tasting suppli (roman rice balls), lingua di pizza (pizza shaped like a tongue), sandwiches stuffed with offal, fruit and vegetables, we sat down for a glass of wine and a plate of pasta. While I encouraged them to try the Roman classics of cacio e pepe, amatriciana and carbonara, I was searching for light and refreshing. Orecchiette were on the menu. Orecchiette hails from the region of Puglia. Orecchiette pasta is Puglia’s most well known and most loved pasta shape (at least by me it is). Small disks of pasta dough are shaped around a thumb into a small cup like form similar to an ear hence the name. The shape is versatile and works well with many different sauces.
Wheat has been cultivated in Puglia since Roman times though much of it was exported to other regions. Orecchiette like the majority of pasta were made at home. Now we find orecchiette in speciality stores, supermarket shelves and in pasta shops like in the Testaccio market. Although the most coveted orecchiette recipe tosses them with garlic, cooked turnip tops and anchovies melted away in olive oil, orecchiette cooked with tomatoes, tossed with arugula and topped off with a bit of pecorino romano cheese is my new favorite. It’s simple, sweet and bright.
Orecchiette con pomodoro e arugula
Ingredients for 4 people
400 g (14 oz, or 2 cups) dried orecchiete pasta
1 bunch of fresh arugula
4 generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, peeled and lightly squashed
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Pecorino Romano cheese
Wash the tomatoes and cut in half. Wash the arugula. Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of EVOO over a medium heat. Add the garlic clove. Cook until it starts to soften. Add the tomatoes. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes on low heat. Salt to taste while cooking. While the tomatoes are simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once water has come to a boil, toss a heaping teaspoon of salt in and cook the orecchiette until al dente. When the pasta is al dente, drain (keeping some of the pasta cooking water in case it is needed), add the pasta and arugula to the sauce and toss well. Spoon the pasta from the pan to the dish and dust the with Pecorino Romano cheese. Lunch is served!